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Home > Books > Book of archery > Section III: Female Archery
Section III
Female Archery
Part 2 of 3

In Usbec Tartary, the natives of both sexes ply their bows with equal dexterity. When invaded by the Russians, it is related by the historian of the expedition[19] that they almost annihilated the enemy's cavalry, killing man and horse 100 paces further off than the best European musketeer. Travellers -who visit their country are received with a rude hospitality; and when

Sated Hunger bids his brother Thirst

Produce the mighty bowl, they amuse them with many extraordinary anecdotes of strong and skilful archery, the only subject on which they appear to converse with satisfaction. These, however, refer oftener to their wives and daughters than to themselves. They say that, when the emperor Aurunzebe invaded Usbec Tartary, it happened that a small party of his horsemen entered a village to plunder it; and whilst they were binding the inhabitants, preparatory to leading them off as slaves, an old woman spoke as follows:--

"Children," said she, "refrain your evil hands, and hearken to my words. Withdraw from the village while there is yet time. Should my daughter return, and find you thus occupied, you are undone." But the old crone's admonition only excited their laughter and ill treatment. They persisted in the work of devastation, until their beasts being fully loaded, they withdrew, taking with them the old lady herself. As she rode anxiously along, her eyes continually wandered in the direction she had left. By and by, she suddenly broke forth in an ecstasy of joy, exclaiming, "My daughter, my daughter! She comes, she comes!" The person alluded to was not then in sight, but the trampling of her horse, which every moment became more audible, and the clouds of dust, left no doubt on the poor woman's mind that her heroic child was hastening to the rescue. Presently the maid appeared, mounted on a fiery steed. A quiver hung at her side, and in her hand she held a bow. While yet a considerable distance off, she called aloud to the Indians that their lives would be spared if they restored the plunder and released the captives. But they continued to hurry onwards regardless of her offer. In a minute, then, she let fly three or four arrows, which emptied an equal number of saddles. The enemy had then instant recourse to their own bows; but the archery of India availed little in the plains of Tartary. Laughing at their impotent efforts, she continued to pour in her arrows with a strength of arm and accuracy of aim which appeared marvellous to her affrighted adversaries. At length, full half their number being slain, she closed in with the rest, and, assisted by the released captives, put them all to the sword.[20]

In a battle between the Arabs and the citizens of Damascus, Thomas, the emperor Abubekir's son-in-law, greatly distinguished himself by his skill in archery. Amongst others, he wounded Abu Ibu Said with a poisoned arrow, of which he instantly died. The queen, who shared with her husband all the perils of war, was overwhelmed with grief on receiving the first intelligence of this fatal catastrophe, and, retiring to her tent, gave vent to her feelings in an agony of tears. But that heroic fortitude, for which through life she had been distinguished, quickly came to her relief. "What mean these vain lamentations?" she exclaimed. "Be it now my sole care to avenge thy death, my husband, and endeavour, with the utmost of my power, to gain the place where thou art, because I love thee I Henceforth I am indeed a widow, for I have dedicated myself to the service of God!"

She then armed herself with A bu's weapons, and sought the fatal field. On arriving there, she eagerly demanded whereabouts it was that Abu had been killed. They told her over against St. Thomas's Gate, and that Thomas, the emperor's son-in-law, was the man who did it. Hurrying towards the spot, with her first arrow she pierced the standard bearer in the hand. The standard fell, and the Saracens instantly bore it away. When Thomas learned this, he was greatly enraged, and spurred into the depth of the battle, in the hopes of regaining his ensign. As the soldiers on both sides stood amazed at his gallant bearing, Abu's wife saw him, and demanded who he was? They replied, the same who had slain her lord. Instantly levelling an arrow, she shot him in the face, so that he was forced to retire within the city. On his wound being dressed, he again returned into the battle, where he engaged Serjabil, his former adversary. Abu's wife ranged herself among Serjabil's men, seeking in vain for a second opportunity of avenging her husband. Thus she did great execution with her arrows, until all were spent but one, reserved as a signal, should occasion demand it. But observing one of the Christians advance towards her, she was unable to refrain her hand. The arrow entered his throat. He fell dead, and the wife of Abu Ibu Said immediately after became a prisoner.[21]

From that land whose glowing atmosphere seems to inspire its daughters with a taste for feats of martial daring, turn we now unto the kingdoms of the West. It is remarkable that Tasso has sketched a very adroit female archer under the same appellation as the lady who figures in my motto, to whom, indeed, she proves no insignificant rival. The passage is written quite in an archer-like style, and contains much variety of action:--

Her rattling quiver at her shoulder hung,
Therein a flash of arrows feathered weel.
In her right hand a bow was bended strong,
     Therein a shaft headed with mortal steel;
So fit to shoot, she singled out among
     Her foes who first her quarrel's strength should feel;
So fit to shoot, Latona's daughter stood,
When Niobe she killed, and all her brood.
*        *        *        *        *
While thus the worthies of the western crew
     Maintained their brave assault and skirmish hot,
Her mighty bow CLORINDA often drew,
     And many a sharp and deadly arrow shot;
And from her bow no steeled shaft there flew,
     But that some blood the cursed engine got,--
Blood of some valiant knight, or man of fame;
For that proud shootress scorned the meaner game.

Lord Stephen of Amboise, or. ditch's brim,
     And on a ladder high, Clotharius died;
From back to breast an arrow pierced him;
     The other was shot through from side to side.
Then, as he managed brave his courser trim,
     On his left arm she hit the Fleming's guide;
He stopped, and from the wound the reed out-twin'd,
But left the iron in the flesh behind.

As Ademare stood to behold the fight,
     High on a bank withdrawn to breathe a space,
A fatal shaft upon his forehead light;
     His hand he lifted up to feel the place,
Whereon a second arrow chanced right,
     And nail'd his hand unto his wounded face.
He fell, and with his blood distain'd the land,
His holy blood, shed by a virgin's hand.

While Palamese stood near the battlement,
     Despising perils all, and all mishap'
And upward still his hardy footings bent,
     On his right eye he caught a deadly clap.
Through his right eye Clorinda's seventh shaft went,
     And in his neck broke forth a bloody gap.
He underneath that bulwark dying fell,
Which late to scale and win he trusted well.

Thus shot the maid.

During the reign of one of the Stuarts, the warlike and turbulent Douglas claimed as his "helpmate" a damsel, non bella, sed bellicosa[22], and well known to man, woman, and child of that period as Black Agnes. Whilst her fierce liege lord was over the English border, engaged in those "woful hluntings" which form the subject of many a pathetic ballad, or, uniting his forces with those of other nobles, made open war upon the sovereign, this valorous wench kept effectual watch and ward at home. Perhaps the Chieftain of the Bloody Heart[23] himself never gave those who ventured to beard him in his own fortalice a rougher handling, than did his martial spouse, who at one hour was seen levelling a culverin, and in the next heading a sortie against the assailants. An old Scottish harper, one of those vagrant minstrels always welcomed to a seat at the feudal board, alludes to her extraordinary vigilance in the following quaint distich:--

Came I early, came I late,
I saw Black Agnes at the gate.

When beseiged by the royal forces, Agnes, ever on the watch, espied James, attended only by a single knight, riding round the castle walls at rather an unwary distance. Hastily summoning a bowman, she pointed to her foes, and desired him to take heed that neither of them escaped. The fellow, promising to do his best, loosed an arrow, which struck the king's companion dead from his horse. "That's one of Black Agnes's love tokens," exclaimed James; and leaving the knight where he fell, he dashed spurs into his horse's flank, and galloped off in the direction of the camp. Here, as the lawyers say, we gain nothing by out motion; for, had Agnes learnt

To grasp the distant aiming bow,

she had, doubtless, scorned the aid of another, rejoicing, like a second Thalestris, to prove the temper of her own arrows upon the mailed bosom of Scotland's king. Therefore her summons to the bowman who slew the knight must, I fear, be received in evidence of her own lack of skill. Early British history furnishes many similar anecdotes, equally vague, and, of course, unsatisfactory.

Could we rest content with the poet's testimony, there would be no difficulty whatever, since the productions of very many of that privileged caste, furnish most decided and beautiful allusions to female archery. Thus, in the Aminta,--

Son poteza, &c. &c.
"Though with the bow the snowy arm may wound,
Yet in the eye the surest death is found."

Our own Gower, describing the various modes by which his heroine manifested her affection for a lover, says:--

She took him all to venerie,[24]
In forest and in wilderness,
For that was all her business
By day, and eke by nighte's tide,
With arrows broad under her side,
And bow in hand, with which she slew
And took all that her list; enough
Of beasts that be chaceable.

In Ben Jonson's Philaster, a lady of rank indulges in the pleasures of the chace, with all the wild woodland accompaniments of a genuine English hunting match of olden days.

King.     What? are the houndes before, and all the woodsmen'
     Our horses ready, and our bowes bent ?
Duke.          All, Sir.
[Exeunt.

          Enter two Woodsmen, at opposite Sides.
1st W.      Ho ! have you lodged the deer? [25]
2nd W.     Yes; they are ready for the bowe.
1st W.     Who shoots? The Princess?
2nd W.     No; she'll hunt.
1st W.     She takes a stand[26], I say. Who else ?
2nd W.     Why, the young. stranger prince.
1st W.     He shall shoot in a stone bowe[27] for me.--Act 4.

Among the Harleian manuscripts there is a musical piece, entitled, "A Description and Praise of Denham," written about the time of Queen Elizabeth. This curious old tract contains, among others, the fragment of a song, apparently very popular in that age:--

Now, Robin, lend to me thy bowe,
Sweet Robin, lend to me thy bowe,
For I must needs a hunting with my ladye goe,
     With my sweet ladye goe.

And whither will my ladye goe,
Sweet Wilkin, tell it unto me,
And thou shalt have my hawke and hounde,
     And eke my bowe,
To wait upon thy ladye.
My ladye will to Uppingham,[28]
To Uppingham in sooth will she,
And I, myself, appointed am
     To wait upon my ladye, &c.

Still, mere poetry must be rejected as evidence in a literary as well as in a legal court; and, were my researches to terminate here, we should have no grounds for considering the Clorinda of our English Robin Hood less a child of imagination than the Clorinda of Tasso. But in Sir Harris Nicolas's Privy Purse expenses of Henry VIII. we have the royal bowyer's charges for three bows, a proportionable number of shafts, belt, braces, and shooting glove, provided for the Lady Anna Boleyn. The archives of Berkeley Castle, also[29], furnish historical evidence that our female nobility, as far back as the commencement of Queen Elizabeth's reign, joined their feudal vassals at the bow butts, and even staked money on the flight of a favourite shaft, or the skill of some adroit yeoman present there.

"In July, 1st Elizabeth," says the Veel Manuscript[30], "the Lord of Berkeley returned to Rising; and the first work done was to send for his buck hounds to Yate, in Gloucestershire. His hounds being come, away goeth he and his wife stag hunting to the Parks of Groby, Bockewell, Leicester Forest, and others on this side of his house. And so was the course of this lord, more or less, for the next thirty summers' months[31]; and his wife, being of like honour and youth, from the 1st of Elizabeth, 1588, to the beheading of her brother, the Duke of Norfolk, thirteen years after, gave herself to such pastimes as the country usually affordeth; wherein she often went with her husband part of these hunting journeyings, delighting with her cross bow; keeping commonly a cast or two of merlins, which sometimes she mewed in her own chamber; which fancy cost her husband, every year, one or two gowns or kirtles, spoyled by their musings; used the long bow, and was in those days, among her servants, so good an archer at the butts, that her side by her was not the weaker; whose bowes, arrowes, gloves, bracer, scarfe, and other ladylike accommodations, I have seen, and heard- herself speak of them in her elder years." And lastly, Leland mentions that Queen Margaret of Anjou killed a buck with the broad arrow, a missile peculiar to the Iong-bow, at Alnwick Park, during her progress into Scotland. Shooting with the cross-bow, requiring infinitely less practice, and attended with greater certainty of aim, than its rival archery, was frequently sanctioned by the practice of England's queen.

I believe it was within Cadenham's great oak' a tree entirely hollow and decayed on one side, that the royal Bess sometimes stationed herself, to strike a deer with this weapon. The foresters had received previous orders to windlass up the game towards the queen's stand; and thus many a fair-headed buck, unconscious of his enemy, fell a victim to her quarrils. The sylvan recesses of Crowday Park, in like manner, occasionally witnessed the queen's adroitness, and that of her friend and favourite, Lady Desmond. When describing these splendid hunting matches, the "Court Journals" of that age amused themselves and their readers with frequent inuendos upon the courtly policy of the fair countess. They hint that many a "high-palmed hart" returned unscathed to his lair, after passing within cross-bow range, less from want of skill, than a fear of exciting her royal mistress's displeasure. And she was wise The triumph of a successful arrow had been dearly purchased by, perhaps, months of exile to Leinster's desolate wilds, far from the sunshine of the English court.[32]

Our system of female education, from the beginning of the seventeenth until nearly the close of the eighteenth century, was a positive conspiracy against the moral and physical development of the sex. Nature, we are aware, in the assertion of her rights, occasionally broke through its absurd restraints; but the change was merely from evil to evil. With scarlet riding dress, masculine head-gear, flushed countenance, and dishevelled locks, the huntress came bounding to the covert side. Undismayed by showers of mud and snowballs from some five score horses' hoofs,--by hedge and fence, gate and stile, she scoured the country "thorough bush thorough briar," screeching forth a tallyho! at renard's departure, and a whoohoo-hoop! at his death.

To the honour of the sex, however, be it spoken, comparatively few ladies were found to unsex themselves thus; and, during a portion of that period, falconry ranked high among amusements chosen to dissipate the ennui of the fair. Lady Juliana Barnes, the noble prioress of St.Albans, has obliged the world with an elaborate treatise on this princely art. She tells us that a peculiar species of falcon, more or less generous according to the possessor's rank, appertained to every man, from monarch and belted earl, to simple franklyn or holy clerk. Thus, the high-mettled gyrfalcon, thirsting for blood, and white as the snows of her native Iceland, was assigned to the two first; the sprightly sparrowhawk to the second; a hobby to the third; while the bold, but diminutive and graceful, merlin belonged to the fair sex.

"A falc'ner Henry is when Emma hawks,
With her of tarcels [33] and of lures he talks.
High on her wrist the tow'ring merlin stands,
Practis'd to rise and stoop at her commands.
And when obedient, now, the bird has flown,
And headlong pluck'd the trembling quarry down,
Her Henry hastens to relieve the fair,
And with the honour'd feather decks her hair."
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